As the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines zoomed closer to 24,000 on Wednesday, Malacañang decided to postpone a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) that would determine what quarantine level Metro Manila and several other regions would observe for the rest of June.
READ: NCR may remain in GCQ till June 30
As of 4 p.m Wednesday, the Department of Health reported the total number of COVID-19 cases at 23,732, with 740 new cases—452 fresh cases and 288 late cases, based on the daily accomplishment reports submitted by only 47 out of 54 current operational labs.
DOH likewise announced 159 recoveries on Wednesday, bringing the total number of recoveries to 4,895.
But the country’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise more than the week after Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Mandaue City transitioned to general community quarantine (GCQ), where lockdown restrictions were relaxed, on June 1.
These areas, where coronavirus cases were concentrated, were among locations last to see quarantine restriction eased on June 1 from a modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
Data gathered by the Standard showed that from June 1 to 10, the DOH has reported an additional 5,646 cases, or nearly one-fourth of the current total. In ten days, the daily average new cases hit 565, with a high of 740 yesterday and 244 on June 5.
About 55 percent of the total coronavirus cases in the country come from the National Capital Region (NCR), DOH statistics showed.
The DOH has said the increase in cases was mainly due to the quicker validation of more cases that were days or weeks old.
But in May, researchers at the University of the Philippines warned that based on a mathematical forecast, a premature easing of the ECQ in the NCR may result in an escalation of 24,000 cases and 1,700 deaths by June 15.
READ: PH infections top 22k, more easing up set
“Based on our data, if the ECQ is lifted prematurely, we will be faced with another wave or a surge in transmissions that is certain to squander our gains forcing us to make further costly interventions and increasing the total economic cost and the number of lives lost,” the researchers said.
While the UP researchers said the data would show “there had been gains due to ECQ, the goal is to sustain these gains until such time that it has scaled up and rolled out its programs and its initiatives for mass testing, contact tracing and isolation of infective individuals.”
Meanwhile, the Palace on Wednesday said President Rodrigo Duterte’s meeting with the IATF has been moved to Monday, June 15, the same day the current GCQ is supposed to expire.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte will be back in Manila on Monday and announce whether Metro Manila will transition to a modified MGCQ that would allow almost all businesses to operate, even as the COVID-19 pandemic remains a serious health threat.
Duterte is expected to address the nation on Monday as well to provide fresh directives on community quarantine protocols.
It was only this month that the government started to largely ease lockdowns across the country to restart the economy bruised by the pandemic.
Except for Metro Manila, Pangasinan province, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Central Visayas, Davao City, and Zamboanga City, which are under a general community quarantine, all areas in the country are under the more relaxed MGCQ until June 15.
Meanwhile, Roque admitted that it would be hard for the Philippines to reduce its COVID-19 cases to zero like New Zealand did, citing the difference in population.
“It is a little hard for the Philippines to achieve that. Because if you compare it to New Zealand, their land area is just as big as Luzon. Its population is just 5 million,” he said.
The Philippines has so far recorded nearly 23,000 COVID-19 cases with 4,736 recoveries and 1,071 deaths.
In an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel, Roque acknowledged the need to put up new laboratories to speed up the testing for COVID-19.
“We’re still aggressively pursuing the establishment of more laboratories because we don’t have enough,” Roque said.
The country currently has 54 laboratories that have been accredited by the Department of Health (DOH) to conduct independent testing for COVID-19.
In his 11th weekly report to Congress, President Duterte noted that as of June 4, there are 140 laboratories being evaluated in a bid to boost the country’s testing capacity.
Duterte said about 112 of the 140 laboratories are already at the third stage of a five-step accreditation process.
The commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield (JTF CV Shield), meanwhile, called on the public and law enforcers to stay vigilant and comply with health and safety protocols, despite experiencing “quarantine burnout” after almost three months.
JTF CV Shield commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar made the appeal as he noted a decreased sensitivity to repeated warnings from the authorities.
“The tendency is to ignore, become negligent, or revert back to their normal lives again, especially if nothing happened to them or their friends and relatives—at the expense of sacrificing the health safety protocols that must be observed to protect themselves from (coronavirus disease 2019),” Eleazar said in a text message.
For instance, he said, some people tend to gather around and engage in drinking sessions while others leave their homes without wearing face masks.
READ: DOH misses Duterte deadline
In related developments:
* The Department of Health said the country’s population might see a surge in unintended pregnancies if the public is not able to access family planning services due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said 25 percent of family planning services in local and regional hospitals were hampered during the lockdown to limit the spread of COVID-19. Citing global estimates, Vergeire said the world might be seeing 7 million unintended pregnancies if the lockdowns continue in the next six months.
* The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now expediting the approval of new crematoriums for those who died due to COVID-19. “We all know that because of the rising deaths due to COVID-19, there is really a need to cremate the cadavers (at once). That’s why we really have to expedite (the process),” said DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda. Out of the 89 crematoriums nationwide, only 69 are operational. Since March 18, the facilities were able to cremate 8,131 bodies of COVID-19 patients, suspected cases and of those without the virus.